Berlin versus Vienna? Which Should You Choose? Of course, they’re both amazing cities, and I’m smitten with both. But travel time is precious, and sometimes you just need to know which is the right city for you, Berlin or Vienna? Here’s how to choose.
Choose Berlin if…
Here are four reasons you should choose Berlin over Vienna.
…You Love Street Art
If you love street art, you’ll LOVE Berlin, where street art has been an important part of the culture since the fall of the Berlin Wall. In fact, there’s a portion of the Berlin Wall that is now covered in murals. However, the best pieces (my favorite at least) are the beautiful building-sized installations in Kreuzberg. World famous artists come from all over the world to put their mark on the area, which is basically a neighborhood-sized treasure hunt for street art lovers.
…You Want to Explore Beer Culture
Berliners are the first to tell you that their beer history has some gaps (and they’ll point the finger quickly at Bavaria as the source of their beer problems), but you’ll also notice that Berliners love their beer. If you want to enjoy a beer tour or visit up-and-coming craft breweries, Berlin is the place to be. You can also simply opt to buy a beer at a local spaeti (similar to a convenience shop or corner store) and walk around drinking as you explore the city. Open containers are part of the city’s history, and Berliners are proud to be able to enjoy a drink in public.
…You Want to Learn World War II & Cold War History
Berlin has some dark history, but it’s the kind you already are aware of before you get here. One thing that’s amazing about the city, though, is they really do a good job of grappling with the past and using it as a way to teach and warn the world about the dangers of authoritarianism. Even a regular city walking tour will take you to important Holocaust sites and places associated with the Third Reich. Further, while there are other places to learn about World War II and the Cold War, there’s nothing quite like staring at the Berlin Wall or seeing the memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe to put it all into perspective.
…You’re a Budget Traveler
Tied to its Cold War and East German legacy, Berlin is an economical city to travel in compared to the rest of Central and Western Europe. Between great public transportation, cheap beers, and incredible free things to do in the city (like enjoy the markets and the architecture), you really can keep your costs down with a little planning. While it’s more expensive than Eastern Europe, it’ll be a nice surprise if you’re used to traveling in Ireland, France, or the UK.
Choose Vienna if…
Still not sure if you should choose Vienna or Berlin? Here are four reasons why Vienna is the right city for you.
…You Want to Explore Coffee Culture
Yes, there are cafes in Berlin, but when it comes to the international cafe experience, Vienna is the gold standard. Here you can while away an entire afternoon enjoying a cup of coffee and a piece of chocolate cake or apple strudel. Its an especially lovely way to spend your time if you visit Vienna in winter or happen to be here on a rainy day. The hardest part about going to Vienna cafes is which to pick since some are cozy, some are historic, and some are famous for their desserts. Don’t pick just one! Enjoy a few, or why not just go to a new one every day that you’re here?
…You Love Beautiful Architecture
I do love Berlin’s architecture, but it’s a sad fact that much of the city had to be rebuilt after the Allies bombing campaigns at the end of the war. Vienna’s historic core, however, is intact. You’ll find gorgeous Art Nouveau houses, Gothic cathedrals, and Baroque estates. There’s also nothing in the world like enjoying a stroll or a tram ride around the Ringstrasse, which is sometimes called “the most beautiful boulevard in the world.”
…You Want a Night Out at the Opera
Yes, you can go to the opera in Germany (or almost any city in the world). But a night at the Vienna opera? That’s a travel bucket list item for opera enthusiasts and novices alike. While here, you can pick up cheap tickets and stand in line, or you can splurge and get a box seat. Don’t speak German? Never worry! The opera will be in the language of the libretto, typically German, Italian, or French. However, there are boxes with translations so English speakers will be able to keep up.
…You’re a Country Counter
If your goal is to see as many countries as possible, you’ll be glad to know that you can take an easy day trip to Bratislava from Vienna, adding a day in Slovakia to your trip. If you fall in love with the beautiful city down the Danube, you can plan a longer trip when you come back. But for now, at least you’ll get a taste of Slovakia, a country that gets far fewer tourists than the cities of Vienna or Berlin (perhaps even combined).
Bratislava has beautiful architecture, a castle, and a Cold War past. While not as dramatic as crossing the Berlin Wall to get from the West to the East, when you take a train from Vienna to Bratislava you’re crossing that same Iron Curtain.
Choose Both For…
Okay, so you can’t choose between Vienna and Berlin? If you have time to see both, you’ll be happy to find there are some things that these two cities have in common.
Vienna has Schönbrunn Palace, the Hofburg, and the Belvedere, while Berlin has Charlottenburg Palace, Sansouci, and Ceceilienhof. In fact, both cities are blessed with enough palaces that naming three in each city doesn’t even cover them all! The palaces in Vienna are easier to get to from the city, while many of Berlin’s palaces are located near each other in the suburb of Potsdam (yes, the Potsdam where they had the famous peace conference). A visit to Potsdam is one of the most popular day trips from Berlin.
…World Class Art Museums
Both Vienna and Berlin are famous art cities, and both literally have parts of their cities named for their museums. In Vienna, it’s the MuseumsQuartier, where you’ll find the Leopold Museum and the Museum of Modern Art, among others. Berlin has Museumsinsel, or Museum Island, where the city’s best art museums are located together on a small island in the Spree River. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, you’ll find the Pergamon Museum and New Museum along with three more world-class institutions. So if you love visiting first-class art museums (one after the other), both Berlin and Vienna have you covered.
In Vienna, it’s Sachertorte, apple strudel, and plum cake. In Berlin, it’s Black Forrest cake, nussecken, and marble cake. When choosing between Berlin and Vienna, no one loses the war of fancy and delicious desserts. Any treat you can find in Austria or Germany can be had in their capitals, so come prepared to try sweet treats until you are practically bursting.
…Delightful Christmas Markets
It’s no secret that I WILL travel for Christmas markets. I love the one here in Sofia, and I love visiting the Christmas markets in Vienna and Berlin when I travel there in late November and December. Which city has my favorite? Well, I’ve been to ten in Berlin and nearly that many in Vienna, and I can say without a doubt: I love them both! If you’re looking to travel for Christmas market season, you can’t go wrong with either city!
Berlin Travel Resources
Did you pick Berlin? If so, here are my Berlin travel resources to help you plan your trip!
Start with my list of Germany travel tips and what to pack for Germany, so you know what to bring with you and what to wear in each season. You can also see why I particularly love visiting Germany in autumn (the colors are insane)!
Love to listen while you plan your travels? I have episodes about Berlin on both of my podcasts. You can check my history podcast episode about wartime Berlin and my travel podcast episode about Berlin. Plus here are all the best travel podcasts I use to plan my own trips.
Vienna Travel Resources
If Vienna is the city for you, here are my resources to plan your trip. First, here’s my Austria packing list so you know what to bring with you regardless of which season you travel in.
Finally, Don’t Forget Travel Insurance!
Whichever city you choose, make sure you have a valid Travel Insurance Policy because accidents happen on the road. I pay for World Nomads, and I happily recommend them. It’s especially important to get travel insurance if you’ll be hanging out in cities where tourists can be the victims of pickpockets.
I have been a paying customer of World Nomads for travel insurance for two years, and I happily recommend them. If you get sick, injured, or have your stuff stolen, you’ll be happy to have the ability to pay for your medical bills or replace what’s stolen or broken.
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